It’s amazing how much stir amongst the videogame community a little downloadable arcade title can cause. Much has been made of Braid’s inner workings and what everything means way beyond the surface. Perhaps it’s a sorrowful commentary on the death of the 2D platformer; perhaps it’s about love and how one man’s obsession with his ‘Princess’ could drive him further away from her. Or perhaps it’s all one big allegory for the Manhattan bombings and the creation of the atomic bomb. Who knows?
“What the portraits actually symbolise is a matter of how far down the rabbit hole you feel like burrowing”More importantly: who cares? The story is totally irrelevant when it comes down to the enjoyment you’ll find in Braid; it’s intentionally obscure (told through mini passages) and save for a genuinely stunning, jaw-hits-the-floor ending, the story is for the most part, pretentious throwaway garbage.
On its oil painted surface, Braid is a love letter to the days of yore when videogames consisted of running right and jumping over – or on top of – enemies and collecting shiny coins. The references to Super Mario Bros. are numerous and frequent. From the snapping carnivorous plants, the enemies that look mysteriously like goombas, to the flag and castle at the end of every world (of which there are 6). It’s a back to basics approach that can – if you really want – be the only approach you take with Braid. The game doesn’t force you to seek out all the jigsaw pieces that are scattered through the worlds in order to see the end (which is brilliant as already mentioned). But drill deeper, and Braid is not only a walking reference to games of the late ’80s, but it’s also a time-skewing puzzle adventure.
“A rousing score memorable enough for you to leave playing when in ear’s reach of your console, and catchy enough to hum to during your day’s activities.”And it’s here where this gem shines brighter than the majority of full retail games in shops. I won’t wax lyrical for the next paragraph as if Braid is the first title to utilise time bending mechanics. But I will wax lyrical about how well it’s implemented. As previously stated, each world has a number of jigsaw pieces that, surprisingly enough, fit together to paint a portrait (what the portraits actually symbolise is a matter of how far down the rabbit hole you feel like burrowing). Sounds straightforward in principle – putting it into practice is a whole different ball game, however. Braid will pull and twist your brain in ways you didn’t think possible; some of the solutions to the puzzles are as ambiguous as the book passages in the game’s epilogue. Expect to change and refit many a proverbial light bulb on your adventures through fits of ‘Eureka!’ moments, which is an emotion that makes all the proverbial (honest) tears worth it.
It could be said that a few of the worlds towards the end of the game are somewhat similar to earlier levels, save a different time manipulating technique for each. But it’s all so beautifully constructed that it is nigh on impossible to care. Every world is a masterpiece of construction all by itself, and coupled together, is a joy to behold. The colour palette extends beyond the industry norm of grey and brown, and the multi-layered set up of the backgrounds give Braid’s locales a sense of bustling life – even when time stands still. The animation is flowing adding to the almost dreamlike aura of the game and the soundtrack deserves a special mention too. A rousing score memorable enough for you to leave playing when in ear’s reach of your console, and catchy enough to hum to during your day’s activities.
Braid in many ways is this year’s Portal; not in the obvious sense but in the way it has burst onto the scene snatching most hearts that have given it the time of day, with nothing but plucky charm. It is a title for the modern age with all the heart and soul of the 8bit/16bit era.